When did you first start working for Gracen & Gracen?
It was just a job, just to cover the basics while she worked on graduate school applications and deferring student loan payments. It was just a job that paid the bills, she told her mother when she complained. Gail turned away from the disappointment in her expression.
“We called that the secretary pool when I was your age,” her mother remarked. The barb was dulled by her weak voice.
“I’m not going to be a secretary,” Gail said. In contrast her voice was brisk and a little too loud. “I’m going to be working as an assistant in the acquisitions department. It’s an excellent starting position.” She felt her mother’s skeptical gaze on her back. Gail taped another box closed. She had to finish packing before Sunday.
What do you want for your career here?
She didn’t idolize ballerinas or princesses as a little girl, and didn’t want to be a President the way her mother talked about sometimes. Gail just wanted her own life. She just didn’t know how to get there. The trick seemed to be finding someone who already knew the way up and was willing to show you the steps, she thought. It was harder to go alone.
What is your biggest weakness?
After a few incidents of uncomfortable advances and one persistent and terrifying episode of sexual harassment, Gail adopted a sort of protective camouflage. She let her ambitions wither. She stopped going to the salon, stopped buying conditioner and stopped doing anything more complicated than untangling knots from her hair. She stopped wearing anything new, anything less than shapeless, anything that was noticeable. It was a good disguise. After all, her mother’s hospital bills would bankrupt anyone on an assistant’s salary. Better to remain unnoticed, undesired. Going unnoticed was actually critical now, and Gail hoped her lucky numbers would stay true.
Can you work under intense pressure?
When Profit first told her he needed a favor, Gail thought she knew what he would say next. Not the exact words, maybe. Sitting in that sad little wooden chair, the untouched coffee clouding over with cream, she braced herself. There was threat, but it was not sexual. But it wasn’t lust, for her body or the money she stole. She wasn’t entirely sure what he really wanted. But letting him into the office was a relief compared to the alternative. Gail even let herself hope that would be the end of it and she could sink back into her colorless world before she started to remember what it was she wanted in her life.
How would you handle conflict with your boss?
Her stomach cramped when he came near. There was a bottle of antacids in her desk, and one in her purse. She bought six bottles at a time, until the clerk at the pharmacist asked if she had thought about seeing a doctor. She stopped going there and started visiting drug stores and groceries on the way home from work or on the weekend. She went to a different one each time and only paid in cash. The world in color was a painful place.
What skills would you like to develop in this position?
Living with the situation was much easier than Gail imagined. Sometimes she even forgot that Profit could be a little scary, and more than a little unscrupulous. Sometimes he seemed perfectly ordinary and she caught herself talking to him like he was a friend, just another coworker trying to climb the corporate ladder to a bigger paycheck and better parking space. More often than not the days were ordinary and Gail learned not to pick at the details that might render it otherwise. She was grateful more than anything else. Especially when she visited her mother. They said she could hear everything. Gail poured her scruples into her mother’s willing ears and afterward it was easier to bear. Kind of like going to confession, but one that required no guilt or penance.
There was a weird little part of her that enjoyed it. As terrifying and stomach churning as Profit’s special tasks were, they thrilled her. There was a sense of possibility in her life now. Gail started buying new clothes. One morning she found an appointment card on her desk for a trendy salon, the time and stylist’s name written in Profit’s meticulous handwriting. She took a long lunch.
How did you handle a difficult situation involving a coworker?
“Gail, call somebody, do something please Gail, help me Gail!”
Without thinking she reached into her purse. But slowly the impulse to dial 911 faded and she let the phone fall heavily back into her bag, crushing her wallet, receipts, antacids and a tiny bottle of hand lotion. A deal for the chip maker, Mr Wong said. The chip was useless. The chip maker, maybe not so useless. Batewell thrashed ineffectually against the hands of the expressionless men strapping him to a chair. Soon he couldn’t even scream. His expression was no longer arrogant or sneering. He looked frightened. Batewell was a creep and a bastard. He deserved to be in that box, she told herself.
“I thought that revenge would feel good.” She wasn’t sure what she felt. A little unsettled, cold, exhausted from working through the night. Gail hadn’t dared to even doze while the programs scanned the chip, too jumpy in that empty mansion.
“Revenge is pointless,” Profit said. “ It’s a tool for the weak. And you’re not weak, not anymore.”
Gail thought about that, all the way back to the office.
What would your boss say about the quality of your work?
The earrings, little pearl drops with silver filigree, were a gift from Profit before the interview for the project management position opening up in the Acquisitions Department.
“Put them on,” he said. Gail carefully screwed the tiny silver posts into her ears. He smiled at her, just the slightest bit. It was like having an older brother, someone who looked out for you and showed you the steps. Sometimes he even visited her mother, she knew. Gail wondered if he also used her as a confessor. Her stomach twisted, just a little. But she was used to it now and didn’t even reach for the antacids in her top desk drawer.
“Good luck Gail. I know you’ll do well.”
“Thank you Mr. Profit.” Gail felt his eyes on her all the way down the hall.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
The team of interviewers across the table waited expectantly. She knew the steps now, exactly where she needed to go. The man on the left checked his watch, wanting to be out of the conference room and off to lunch. She didn’t let it bother her.
“In ten years, I see myself as vice president of Acquisitions,” Gail answered.